Grau (Grey)

Grau (Grey)
signed, inscribed and dated '247⁄9 Richter, 1970' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
33 7⁄8 x 35 ¾in. (86.1 x 91cm.)
Painted in 1970
Wako Works of Art, Tokyo.
Private Collection, Hiroshima.
Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York.
Private Collection, Japan.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Venice, Biennale di Venezia, XXXVI Biennale Internazionale dell'Arte Gerhard Richter, 1972, p. 42.
J. Harten and D. Elger (eds.), Gerhard Richter: Bilder Paintings 1962-1985, exh. cat., Düsseldorf, Städtische Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, 1986, p. 376, no. 247⁄9 (illustrated, p. 110).
Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (ed.), Gerhard Richter, Werkübersicht/Catalogue Raisonné: 1962-1993, vol. III, Ostfildern-Ruit 1993, p. 160, no. 247-9 (illustrated, p. 36).
J. Stückelberger (ed.), Wolkenbilder, Deutungen des Himmels in der Moderne, Munich 2010, pp. 343-345 (illustrated, p. 346).
D. Elger (ed.), Gerhard Richter Catalogue Raisonné, Nos. 198-338, 1968-1976, Vol. II, Berlin 2017, no. 247-9 (illustrated in colour, p. 190).
Mönchengladbach, Städtisches Museum Mönchengladbach, Gerhard Richter, Graue Bilder, 1974.
Brunswick, Kunstverein Braunschweig, Gerhard Richter. Graue Bilder, 1975.
Isernhagen, Galerie Isernhagen, Gerhard Richter, 1979.
Toronto, Art Gallery of Ontario, Gerhard Richter: Paintings, 1988-1989, p. 147, pl. 44 (illustrated, p. 97). This exhibition later traveled to Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art; Washington, D.C., Hishhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Tokyo, Wako Works of Art, Gerhard Richter, 1996 (illustrated in colour, unpaged).
Hiroshima, Daiwa Radiator Factory, Viewing Room vol. 01, 2006.

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Lot Essay

My grey monochromes have the same illusionistic implications as my landscapes. I want them to be seen as narratives – even if they are narratives of nothingness. Nothing is something. You might say they are like photographs of nothing
—Gerhard Richter

With its intricately textured, monochrome surface, the present work, painted in 1970, belongs to the pivotal series of Grau (Grey) paintings that marked a new chapter in Gerhard Richter’s practice. Begun in 1967 and pursued until the late 1970s, these works mark significant territory in the artist’s shift from photorealist paintings to his first gestural abstracts. Reduced to a single plane of colour, the work reflects Richter’s career-defining desires to sublimate art to its most essential components, as also demonstrated in his Colour Charts and Red-Blue-Yellow series. Though devoid of figurative subject matter, Grau (Grey) testifies to the bewitching possibilities of nothingness. The canvas is animated by ethereal swirls of brushwork that ripple like clouds or waves. Beneath the obscure, grey fog one can glimpse the faint line of a horizon, and blue-toned painted underlayers suggest a sea or landscape. Believing that representing ‘nothing’ still constitutes a viable and decisive representation of something, Richter's layering of one expansive abyss over another marks a unique and powerful example of his conceptual aims. The present work was included in the artist's major retrospective of 1988, which opened at the Art Gallery of Ontario and travelled across the States.

The present painting’s facture attests to Richter’s enduring fascination with the unstable nature of picture-making. Overpainting his photorealist representation of the physical world with a colour that ‘evokes neither feelings nor associations’, the artist reveals the nihilistic origins of his Grau series as a radical deconstruction of the pictorial surface. Discussing the significance of the colour, he explained: ‘it is really neither visible nor invisible. Its inconspicuousness gives it the capacity to mediate, to make visible, in a positively illusionistic way, like a photograph. It has the capacity that no other colour has, to make “nothing” visible ...’ (G. Richter, ‘Letter to Edy de Wilde, 23 February 1975’, in H. U. Obrist (ed.), Gerhard Richter: The Daily Practice of Painting, London 1995, pp. 82-83). Proposing that even the most basic, abstract artistic gesture invokes the potential for illusion and deception, Richter draws parallels between all processes of image-making. Whether a photograph, painted seascape, or abstract plane of colour, each renders known phenomena—light, shadow, form and movement—upon an artificial surface. In the Grau paintings, Richter offers an insightful illustration of this fact. Disbanding pictorial traditions, his depiction of nothing is an absolute gesture of freedom.

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